There are jobs around the league that are like holding the winning lottery ticket. Playing next to Sidney Crosby or Alexander Ovechkin? That’s probably a little easier than playing next to a 4th line fringe player. What about playing behind Henrik Lundqvist,
Roberto Luongo, or Ryan Miller in the playoffs? Yeah, they probably won’t be seeing very much action. There are jobs that are certainly easier than others—all the NHLer has to do is play their usual game and they’ll probably have a successful season. It’s taking the term “put in a position to succeed” to a completely different level.
For defensemen—the easiest job in the league for the last 15 years has been playing next to Nicklas Lidstrom. Time after time, he’s made good blueliners look extremely good. Word out of Detroit is that newcomer Ian White has beaten out Jonathan Ericsson to be the next contestant on “luckiest man in the hockey world.” (Note: his words, not mine)
Ian White said what a hundred defensemen around the NHL are probably thinking right now:
“I’m probably the luckiest guy in the hockey world right now. To be a new guy coming in here and to be paired up with one of the best defensemen to ever play the game, it’s quite an honor. He’s got a lot to teach me.”
It has become an annual rite of passage for hockey fans to question the Red Wings lineup and wonder aloud if they’re too old to compete with the elite teams of the Western Conference. Last season, people thought the game had passed Lidstrom and he responded by winning his seventh Norris Trophy. But as far as last stands go, the Red Wings could be looking at one this season.
The Red Wings have four unrestricted free agents on the blueline at the end of the season. Lidstrom is always toying with retirement, but Brad Stuart, Niklas Kronwall, and depth defenseman Mike Commodore are all free to explore the open market on July 1. That leaves only Jonathan Ericsson and Ian White as NHL defenseman the organization can depend upon for more than a single season. GM Ken Holland always seems to find a way to work things out, but there are quite a few moving parts to address over the next nine months.
For White, this is an opportunity to find permanent home for the first time in his career. Since coming up with the Maple Leafs organization, he’s played for four different NHL teams in the past two seasons. Making matters worse, he suited up for three separate teams in 2010-11 alone! Things haven’t exactly gone smoothly since leaving Leafs either. Since leaving Toronto as part of the Dion Phaneuf trade, he’s struggled to replicate the success that helped him to 23 goals over two seasons.
The good thing about being repeatedly traded over the last two seasons is that it’s shown that he’s a desired commodity around the league. He was to be the defenseman to replace Phaneuf on the blueline for the Flames when he was traded from the Maple Leafs. Then he was supposed to be the missing piece in the Sharks defensive corps to help them over the hump in the West. Now, he’s being asked to fill the shoulder some of the load that has been left by Brian Rafalski’s retirement. It’s not an enviable job, but working with Lidstrom should help ease the transition.
Playing with Lidstrom, under the watchful eye of Mike Babcock, fans should keep an eye on Ian White to have a breakout seasons this year.